For the first 20 minutes of Saturday night’s friendly, D.C. United played like a team in awe of its revered opponent.
Coach Ben Olsen accurately described it as “men versus boys.”
His boys grew up in the second half, but the two-goal deficit to English Premier League club Everton proved too much and United settled for a 3-1 loss in front of 12,789 observers at steamy RFK Stadium.
“You don’t just walk onto a field, any field, and play 60-70 percent,” Olsen said. “We’ve got some guys at times that don’t get it, don’t get what this means.”
United fell behind by a goal in the fourth minute and by two in the 16th. Chris Pontius scored in the opening moments of an encouraging second half before Everton secured the outcome with an 82nd-minute goal.
“We can’t put ourselves behind 2-0 to a good team,” Pontius said. “We can’t do that in MLS, we can’t do that against an EPL team. You’re chasing the game the whole time.”
Consequently, United fell to 2-6-6 in all competitions at home and 0-4-4 in the past eight dates at RFK.
“I know it’s been a long week [three games in eight days] and maybe I am making a little too much of this because it is a friendly,” Olsen said, “but it wasn’t good enough for me.”
The nonessential nature of the match allowed Olsen the flexibility of reintroducing Dejan Jakovic and Marc Burch to the back line after long layoffs from hamstring injuries. He also started five reserves.
Therein lies the dilemma in these midseason friendlies against superior opponents: Play the regulars for competitive purposes and risk fatigue and injury. Play the reserves and risk a lopsided outcome. Saving their starters for league play, the Seattle Sounders learned that lesson Wednesday when they were gutted by Manchester United, 7-0.
Everton, which used a mix of reserves and regulars as part of this preseason tour, can’t match Manchester United’s firepower, but at the start, the Toffees made D.C. United look bad.
In the fourth minute, center back Brandon McDonald was slow to react to Leighton Baines’s through ball, allowing Victor Anichebe a free pass. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid reduced the angle, but Anichebe calmly chipped the ball over him.
“With these conditions, it was hard,” Everton defender Phil Jagielka said. But “when you score so early on, it breeds confidence.”
After Josh Wolff snapped an equalizing bid wide from 12 yards, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s run infiltrated the heart of United’s defense. The Russian collected Ross Barkley’s through ball in stride and beat Hamid with a low finish.
Andy Najar was one of the few D.C. players in quality form, testing Jan Mucha from 23 yards and then delicately chipping an angled bid off the crossbar. Late in the half, the slight Najar made the mistake of messing with the hulky Anichebe, who bumped him out of bounds like a rag doll.
Pontius, who had entered late in the first half, cut the deficit less than two minutes after the break. He timed his run perfectly to gather Dwayne De Rosario’s pass over the top and struck a bouncing ball past Mucha.
Guided by Pontius, United had the better of possession much of the half and created quality opportunities. After three Everton chances narrowly missed, Pontius made an ambitious run and smacked a left-side shot off the near post.
Everton sealed it in the 82nd minute when Magaye Gueye volleyed in Jermaine Beckford’s cross from an acute angle.
“The second half the guys showed up,” Olsen said, “and I was proud of that.”
United notes: Leading scorer Charlie Davies wasn’t in uniform because of a sore knee. Wolff left in the 36th minute with a hamstring injury. . . . U.S. national team veteran Tim Howard, Everton’s top goalkeeper, returned from vacation late in the week and was not in uniform. . . . United (5-6-8) will resume league play away next Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes. . . . United owner Will Chang attended the match. He will visit the White House on Monday with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, for whom he is a principal partner.